Middlebury budget plan calls for no tax increase

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters at their town meeting will decide a proposed 2016-2017 municipal spending plan that will not require an increase in property taxes.
The budget — which does not reflect local education spending — will require $6,943,658 in property taxes. If OK’d by voters on Feb. 29, this would translate into the same municipal property tax rate of 98 cents per $100 in property value that residents are currently paying for town services.
Middlebury selectboard members made it a priority this winter to devise a fiscal year 2017 budget that maintained the current tax rate. Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said this was accomplished, in part, through fuel cost savings for municipal vehicles and buildings, a slight increase in the grand list, greater stability in health insurance costs, increases in recreation program fees and revenue from new recreation programs, and the use of surplus funds to stabilize the tax rate.
“Several lucky breaks came together for this budget,” Ramsay told selectboard members at their Jan. 26 meeting.
The board also OK’d a warning for both the annual meeting on Feb. 29 and for Australian ballot voting on March 1. That warning will feature, along with the municipal budget, proposals to eliminate the elected position of auditor, an archaic post that has drawn no interest of late from prospective candidates; to give $6,500 to the Charter House Coalition, a Middlebury nonprofit that provides food and shelter to people in need; and to adopt a new, graduated penalty for the late payment of property taxes. The warning also includes a request for permission to borrow up to $242,000 to finance a new bucket loader, pick-up truck, line painting device and trailer.
The annual meeting will also feature discussion on potentially establishing a K-9 program at the Middlebury Police Department.
In other action on Jan. 26, the Middlebury selectboard:
• Agreed to release a request for proposals to architects who might be interested in helping solve the current space crunch at the Ilsley Public Library.
The Independent reported on Jan. 21 that Ilsley officials had updated the library’s strategic plan and had documented the tight space within the historic Main Street building. Library officials announced plans to hire an architect to design a possible expansion, and then bring in a consultant to determine if sufficient funds could be raised locally to bankroll a major capital project. Library officials also told the Independent that the library would commit itself to obtaining private donations and grants to finance a project, if an addition is determined to be a sound, financially viable course of action.
But John Freidin, a member of the Ilsley Library’s building committee, told the selectboard on Jan. 28 that he envisions more of a public-private partnership, if a building project is pursued.
• The selectboard also signed a thank you letter from the board to Bill Finger, recognizing his faithful and diligent work over the last three years in support of the Bridge Replacements Project.
• Awarded a contract for $13,821 to WE Sign Design Corp. to make and install a variety of interpretive sign panels and parking signs in downtown Middlebury.
• Received an update from Business Development and Innovation Director Jamie Gaucher on some potential prospects, including EcoGlobal/Ekopolimers, an international plastics recycling company that is considering a presence in Middlebury. Gaucher said the company is looking for a spot in the area with convenient access to rail services to move its products. The Independent has reached out to EcoGlobal/Ekopolimers officials for an interview.
• Spoke with Case Street Redi-Mix officials about allegedly deficient sidewalk work in areas of South Street, Seymour Street and Lucius Shaw Lane. Town officials have questioned the strength and thickness of the concrete in some of sidewalk work done by Case Street last year. Case Street agreed to pay for testing of the concrete and to replace portions proven to be sub-standard. Those tests were performed at three sidewalk locations on Dec. 21 and yielded an average finding of 3,830 pounds-per-square-inch reading, which failed to meet the town’s desired benchmarks of 4,000 psi benchmark (at 110 days) and a core depth of at least 5 inches, according to town documents.
Travis Forbes of Case Street Redi-Mix told the selectboard that he had done some research into studies indicating an industry allowance of 15 percent for psi readings, which he said would allow the Case Street sidewalks to pass. But members of the town’s Public Works Committee on Jan. 14 voted unanimously to require Case Street to replace the portions of sidewalk that did not pass testing.
“This contract is what they have to live up to,” Selectman Gary Baker said in agreeing with the Public Works Committee.
Forbes contended the sidewalks were good and that the company should be paid the balance of money owed for the job.
Selectboard members asked Forbes to present his research to the Public Works Committee for review.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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